Sunday, November 1, 2009

Everybody's Watching

(Bear with me, this might be the longest MargeBlog post ever.  If you want the concise version, scroll to the bottom.)

Our first agility trial was today.  Part of me still can't believe it.

6 AM and I was out the door.  The rain was falling lightly, but steadily, and I didn't know just what exactly I was in store for.

We rode in the car for the next hour or so, the light behind the clouds illuminating the sky as we traveled closer and closer to where we were supposed to be.

We arrived at the trial site, only a few tents and people dotting an otherwise desolate field.  It was chilly, but the rain had stopped, and the trial was beginning to come together for its second morning of agility.

Regular, the class I had entered, moved up in order due to the weather.  I think they wanted to get all of the classes with contact obstacles out of the way.  However, the first class still remained Touch n' Go - and, I took a leap of faith and handed the trial secretary my day-of-show entry for that class, too.  I figured, hey, we're here anyway, she's probably going to be slow because of how new it is, and the tunnels and fun contact obstacles will help her to feel better and start her off on the right foot.

Boy, if only I knew that fear would be the least of the problem.

They moved pretty quickly through runs, with Novice dogs following both Elite and Open ones.  Suddenly, before I knew it, they called my name and told me to wait on deck.

I stepped in to the ring, Marge's neck totally bare except for the zebra-striped martingale that was about to come off.  The judge had informed us during briefing that we could use a "pal" to hand us our leash if we so desired, so I voted my sister to do the job.  I figured her presence in the ring would make it seem more like regular old class to my girl.

The dog in front of us, a Pomeranian, rounded one of the last tunnels, and I went to the line.  As soon as he was leashed, the judge signaled that I should begin my run by saying "Good luck."

The leash came off, Marge sat at the start, and we were off.

The first obstacle was a hoop, something exclusive to NADAC that Marge has not seen in sequence.  She skipped it and flew right for the A-Frame.  I brought her back down, got her through the hoop, attempted the A-Frame again, my requests for "zone" going totally unanswered by Marge as she practically leaped from the peak.

The next obstacle was another hoop, and, again, Marge tried to blow by it.  I got her through it, and then we went to the dog walk, where she did hit her contact, but not in a 2o2o.

Then, it all went to hell.  The next obstacle was a tunnel, and she flew to that tunnel so fast only to veer off to the side at the next second, the birth signs of a zoomy attack.  Out of all the options I had considered for things to go wrong, this was not one of them.

I called Marge back to me, and she obliged.  We managed the tunnel, but a hoop 180 was next, and it proved to be just not interesting enough for an apparently very hyper dog.  She flew off again, this time, my recalls unanswered until I used my emergency words: "Are you hungry?"

The crowd, although small, loved it, including both the judge and the photographer.  Realizing that we could never finish the next ten or so obstacles with any amount of efficiency or for any good reason, I informed the judge that I would simply take her through the the tunnel and call it quits.


Sure, she took the tunnel, but then zoomed off AGAIN.  This time, she left the ring.  She wasn't spooked, scared, or anything else, she just wanted to RUN all over the place, as if the idea of being offleash and collarless was simply too much fun to handle.

Fortunately, she did go up to Louie and was brought under control, although not before play-bowing in attempt to perpetuate her little rebellion against the idea of doing any constructed form of anything.

It happens to all of us, the trial secretary said sympathetically.

It was my first time out yesterday, too, and this little guy decided to bolt for the gate!, another understanding competitor told me, pointing to a stubby little bulldog.

I could have coughed the whole thing up to a stress reaction, Marge's way of dealing with being in the ring among a bigger crowd than she's ever seen at agility class, but I did not.  The zoomies didn't stop when she was out of the ring; in fact, I hooked three leashes together to form a makeshift long-line and ran her around way back in the paddock behind the trial setup.  She still wanted to run.  She was having a blast!

Those pesky hoops!

Louie speculated that part of the problem was the hoops, and I think he's right.  (You'll soon find out why.)  The combination of what Marge considers a boring, pointless, exertion-less obstacle in a sequence filled with high-speed tunnels and A-Frames to play around on was fatal for her.  Of course, the fact that Halloween was yesterday and walks were brief definitely played a role, too.  

Do we stick around and run Regular, or end it because it didn't look so pretty the first time out?

My sister, for one, was terrified.  She's going to do it again, she said. She was so afraid that Marge would do the same exact thing and it would lead to a wild goose chase.  Louie was more optimistic, but was afraid to give an opinion outright out of fear that he could possibly be wrong, and didn't want to be held responsible.  

Okay, I said to myself, we'll hang around here, I'll walk the course, see how it is, and make my decision at the last minute.

We hung around through all of Regular 1 and 2, Elite and Open.  It was only about 9:30 or 10 o'clock at that point, but it felt like we had been there forever.

Marge was taking it all in stride.  I had expected her to be slightly more afraid than she was on Friday at the run-throughs, but, in fact, she was somewhat better.  Nothing rattled her.  She enjoyed looking around at all the sights, smelling all the smells, walking around at the back of the field and even doing some work in the pretty busy warm-up area.  Her weaves during warm-up were phenomenal.  She obviously has no problem with people being around while she's running.

Finally, we reached the time for Novice Regular handlers to walk the course.  Out I went.

Though it is possible in NADAC for hoops to be present in a Regular course, this judge had chosen to put none.  It was comprised only of jumps, tunnels, a dog walk, an A-Frame, and a 6-pole set of weaves.

As I walked, I imagined Marge running next to me, simulating in my mind the situations that I knew would give me trouble.. like a close turn into a tunnel after coming at top-speed from another tunnel, and a 180-front cross with a line of straight jumps looming ahead that weren't supposed to be taken.

I conferred with Gloria, my lone friend there from my training club. 

Go for it, she said. She's having fun, you're here, you paid for it, so you may as well take the opportunity to learn.

Marge was only about fifth in the line of Novice dogs, which meant we wouldn't have to wait around for too long.  Gloria, sensing the fact that I was worried about Marge making another early exit, stood near the ring opening and told me that she had it covered.  The combination of her, Louie, and Jessica made for a little Marge-army of sorts, able to diffuse the situation if it should have gone horribly wrong once again.  I didn't anticipate it, because we had literally walked and ran around and practiced and performed recalls, but since my dog's safety is, obviously, paramount to me, I was happy to have the back-up.

I went into the ring, this time opting for the leash runner to simply leave the leash on the ground for me.  I didn't need Jess in the ring; it obviously didn't make a difference to Marge during the first run, and she suggested to me throughout the hours that we were there that the people who were there did not bother her at all.

Up to the line once again.  I tossed my leash, was brave enough to lead out just a tiny bit in front of the first jump.

Okay, jump.

And she did it with perfect poise and focus.  Walk it, I said next, as she ran all the way down the A-Frame this time, though again not stopping at the bottom for the contact.

The next obstacle was a jump, and she almost blew by it, but quickly came back and took it.  Then came the dog walk, where I thought I caught a hint of excited speed from her, but she settled down and we kept going. 

The next problem was solely my fault - I could not execute a front cross, confused her, so she went off course and took a jump the wrong way.  We refocused, she took the tunnel under the A-Frame without a second look, and went running into the next tunnel as I stood back and let her fly.

Her weaves were a mess, partially because of the speed from the tunnel, partially because I was clinging so close to her to make sure she stayed with me that I didn't direct her as I should have.

After that, it was one more tunnel, and a straight sequence of four jumps.  She did it beautifully.  She showed so much drive, so much heart!  She kept going as I told her over and over again to jump, and we finally reached the end of the sequence - together, this time.

I grabbed her real quick, slipped her leash on, but didn't grip it tight enough, and she decided the proper way to exit the ring would be to jump over the orange 2' high ring gates.  She didn't go anywhere, though, and it was my fault for not hanging on tight enough.

Here is the video.  My handling is an enormous mess, so much more erratic , inconsistent, and rocky than it is at class.  Need to work on that:

Obviously, we didn't qualify in either of our runs.  We had a big fat "E" next to our Touch n' Go score, with no time, no faults, no ANYTHING recorded.  Regular wound up being a 30-fault run (three mistakes, though I'm not sure exactly what they were), but she had a time (a very good time, a solid 7 or so seconds under course time, even with the mistakes) and a placement of 8th out of 11 or so.

I would have loved to come out with a ribbon, but I came out of this trial with something bigger.  Marge and I were winners in the sense that she was completely comfortable the entire time we were there.  Men, women, dogs, tents, port-o-potty slams.  None of it mattered.  

She was her typical comedian self, jumping up on Gloria as far as her little paws would allow (she used to be afraid of Gloria, too), reaching into my bag to retrieve her long black stuffy squeaky while no one was looking, and gingerly taking a bite of my sandwich without being invited to do so.  She begged for food any time she saw any, just like she does at class.. in fact, I think she thought this was just one huge agility class.

There is something really special about the agility trial environment for Marge.  I am not exaggerating when I say that she is a completely different dog.  I met up with two fellow trainers (who are on the Fearful Dog Yahoo list, for those who are familiar) who expressed that they wouldn't have ever known that she is as fearful as my messages in the e-mails suggest.  They congratulated me, told me it was great that I was able to come out.  THAT made me feel really good, because these people KNOW in a pretty large sense just what kind of dog Marge is.

It was a good experience.  We won't do any more trials for a while, as I expressed in my last post, but I'm happy we did this one.  Though things were shaky on the course, she showed me that she really is having fun doing this, and that the environment is basically her form of paradise. It's pretty funny that an agility trial, filled with so many different environmental stimuli, would be her idea of a good time, but hey, I'll take it.

Oh, one BIG thing --- I appear to have discovered the reason why Marge was so slow at our last agility class.  Today, I wandered over to one of the warm-up areas after a woman had just pottied her dogs.  They pooped, and it smelled.  As soon as Marge caught a whiff of it, she refused to go near the obstacles!  Since Tang, my instructor's GSD, had a nasty bathroom break right in the middle of our club's field, it seems extremely likely that this was partially the cause for her lackluster performance that night.  So, I guess it's not the rain after all, especially considering that her legs and paws were coated in water and mud, but she still had no problem running.

We'll go to class on Tuesday, giggle over the fact that Marge had an aversion to Touch n' Go, but express nothing but pride over that Regular run, no matter how faulted or faulty it was.  Back to work and play for the MargeDog - who knew I'd have to work on the exact opposite of the things I work on at home?


So, to wrap up:

  • 1 pre-entry, one day of show entry
  • Touch n' Go was a disaster with Marge running all over the place; Eliminated
  • Regular was much more controlled, filled with some novice mistakes, but, looking at the big picture, was an important and successful run.
  • Regular could have been better if I wasn't so worried about her running off, but hey, it is what it is.
  • We need to remember that exercise DOES need to come before we run, or else I might lose control over her
  • She was comfortable with the trial environment in almost every sense, able to walk through crowds of people/dogs, warm-up at the practice obstacles, and run with some conviction in the ring
  • Over all, it was a good experience, and after we put some more work in this winter, we'll be back out there next year.


Dog_geek November 1, 2009 at 9:55 PM  

Great job! You only had two mistakes, though - not three: 10 faults for the off course back jump, and 20 faults for failure to complete the weave poles properly. It is great to hear that Marge was so comfortable at the trial! I look forward to reading about her trials next spring!

NCmountainwoman November 1, 2009 at 10:02 PM  

A good experience all around. Marge has really come far and you can be very proud.

Carolyn November 1, 2009 at 10:05 PM  

Sounds like you have a real ham on your hands! Lol!

Congrats! It sounds like it was a blast! Is it bad that I secretly want to see a video of Marge zooming all over the course on her first run? Hee hee hee...

Kathy Mocharnuk November 1, 2009 at 10:07 PM  

I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!! I rushed home from our NADAC trial which ended at like 7pm, then an hour drive and when I reached the driveway all I could think about was seeing if you had posted how it went for you and Marge and of course thinking about getting a bath for myself to get this dirt from the trial off me, LOL.

THAT WAS SUCH A TERRIFIC JOB, I think the first trial you do not know where to go, you have to get checked in there is that whole stress of how to get to the start line, where to hide treats if you are using them and then you never know how your dog is going to be, an excited dog, or a stressed dog, or who knows. So with all that going on, you DID IT. I think that was an awesome run and I hope you are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY proud of the job you and Marge did. I got goosebumps watching you two it was AWESOME. I know you dont really know me, but I am sooo proud of you for going, for doing such a good job and for knowing what was important and what you got out of this trial. WHOOOOO HOOOOOOO! PS, I got thirty faults on my jumpers course in NADAC too, LOL, and I got to the trial yesterday and realized my dog had never seen a hoop, and the last jump on the course was a hoop so she was going to need to drive to it, I had totally forgot about the hoops, LOL.

Cyndi and Stumpy November 1, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Marge had fun! MARGE HAD FUN!!!!!

There can't be anything bigger and better than knowing that, REALLY!!!

The rest will come! Congratulations on your perfect handling of a wonderful dog!

Deborah November 1, 2009 at 10:19 PM  

Good Job Marge! It sounded like Marge did have fun! Very nerve wracking though for you and Marge I'm sure. I got nervous for you just reading!!!
Have a nice Monday!

Lorenza November 1, 2009 at 10:40 PM  

No ribbons for you Marge but sure you did it great! And very important... you had fun! Pawesome!
Your Mom must be very proud of you!
Kisses and hugs

KB November 1, 2009 at 11:30 PM  

I'm so happy for you! You deserve a ribbon, in my opinion. Reading about Marge loving it so much brought tears to my eyes. I'm glad that you found Marge's form of paradise!

I also admire your guts for going back out after your Touch n' Go. I bet that a lot of people would have given up out of fear that the same thing would happen again. But, not you and Marge :) You're a great team!


Sue November 1, 2009 at 11:34 PM  

Sam, I'm so proud of both of you. It sounds like Marge didn't let her fears control her and was actually enjoying herself, maybe a little too much. We've all had our NQ's and we all learn from them. This was a great practice for you and I'm so glad you did it.

Cinnamon and Mint November 2, 2009 at 2:33 AM  

Congratulations!! I am so happy that you finally did it and that Marge enjoyed the experience.

Your post reminded me of our first trial where we got disqualified in both of the two classes we entered. We couldn't get a time then either, but it was a great experience!

Actually you can learn something from any experience. Next time you will be more relaxed and so will Marge, I think. Thanks for sharing your experience at your first trial.

Dexter November 2, 2009 at 6:06 AM  

You both did great! That was very challenging to be in a new place with goofy obstacles and pent up energy. I hope you will do it all again soon.


Life With Dogs November 2, 2009 at 9:39 AM  

Every time I return I see better news. If you look at your posts from a few months ago the change is remarkable. Baby steps really do add up!

The Army of Four November 2, 2009 at 11:50 AM  

We thought Marge did GREAT in the video!!! And wow, no FEARS! That is really, really great - and you're right - better than ribbons!!! Way to go, Marge and Sam!
Tail wags,
PS: About the zoomie escapade... is Marge part Siberian!?!? Ha roo roo roooooo!

Anna the GSD November 2, 2009 at 12:10 PM  

Way to go Marge!!!! Whooo hooo!!!

You're a SUPERSTAR!!! Hugs and kisses!

Martha November 2, 2009 at 1:16 PM  

We are thrilled Marge is having fun - it really is a learning curve for both of you!
You can only do your best and perhaps some things are better left for another time.
You are both working hard - well done.
Martha & Bailey xxx

Gus, Louie and Callie November 2, 2009 at 5:49 PM  

Good just just a few mistakes.. You will do better next time...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart November 2, 2009 at 9:41 PM  

Congratulations on your debut. I'm so glad Marge enjoyed herself.

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! November 2, 2009 at 10:43 PM  

Way to go BOTH of WOO!

Mom would nevFUR evFUR be brave enough to even attempt something like this with me!

We are happy she had so much fun!

PeeEssWoo: Mom was too exhausted last night to let me khomment on this one!

BRUTUS November 2, 2009 at 11:24 PM  

You both get huge "ATTA GIRLS" from us! Marge for finding herself and pleasantly surprising you, and Sam for your courage to (as Nike says) "just do it". You gotta get the first time over one way or another, and now it's out of the way! Hope you are looking forward to the next trial!

Michelle & Brutus
p.s. mom did apparently have a typo in the email address, we will try again tomorrow! Lots of exciting things to tell :)

Scout and Freyja November 3, 2009 at 4:54 PM  


Muttsandaklutz November 5, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

I echo what everyone else said! Got goosebumps watching the video. I dare say you and Marge have a wonderful future of agility and many fast and fabulous runs ahead of you!

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